The demand for collaborative robots is growing rapidly, especially in SMEs, as they offer a first step towards full automation.
However, with the current state of technology, investments in robots are still too high for SMEs. Compared to large companies, production numbers are low and production lines within SMEs are less universal (more variation in product and environment). At present, broad employability is very difficult to achieve because cobots must also receive specific (non-reusable) instructions for each specific application. The adjustment and programming of cobots for new applications is also a lengthy and costly process, since programming requires specialist knowledge. This means that robots and cobots are still limited suitable for use in SMEs.
The next step will be taken within this project, with the development of a universally deployable cobot, which can deal with a wide variation in product, task and environment focused on the variety of processes in the logistics sector. Within this project, Smart Robotics, Eindhoven University of Technology and DSV Solutions Nederland will collaborate in the development of a universal control in combination with smart, flexible grippers and a user-friendly control. These developments will make it possible for the cobot to work flexibly with human colleagues.
Thanks to this unique collaboration between a university, robot developer and end user, the expectation is that in a short time a new practice-tested cobot system can be created, suitable for a wide variety of products, processes and environments for logistics centers.
Project progress up to and including June 2019
Within work package 4, practical tests were performed on a robot in a packaging street at DSV. Here products are bundled for a DSV Solutions customer. What is interesting to see for the cobot process is that confidence in working with a robot is slowly growing. The employees who operate the robot have the feeling that they have control over the robot and are slowly starting to achieve synergy and intensive cooperation with the robot. The distance that the cooperating operator kept from the cobot has become smaller. The operator also dares to work through the movements of the cobot.
Now that the cooperation seems to be going well, we are trying to monitor with the employees what they do and do not find workable with the cobot. The "happy flow" was conceived by an engineer and a supervisor, but the actions still have to be confirmed by the employees. We see that in this process employees are challenged to indicate how they think they can achieve a higher output through other movements and steps in the process. This first series of changes has recently been adjusted to the satisfaction of the employees. This includes the way of moving, options in the user interface and a different type of gripper that grasps the products differently and more firmly.